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NEWS | Oct. 12, 2012

Instructor pilot 'aviates, navigates' to 5K-hour milestone

By 2nd Lt. Keenan Kunst 12th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs

Lt. Col. Rick Stoffel, 99th Flying Training Squadron instructor pilot, recently surpassed 5,000 flight hours in the T-1A Jayhawk.

Stoffel began his career in the KC-10, flying in support of a variety of operations over places like Somalia and the Balkans. But for the past 15 years, he's forged Air Force instructor pilots in the T-1A. "This vast experience has made him a top-tier instructor as well as a mentor for incoming instructor pilots," Lt. Col. Gavin Marks, 99th FTS commander, said.

Five thousand flight hours is a significant milestone in the Air Force and is even more noteworthy and rare in a single airframe. Though Stoffel insists it's "just another number" to him, Marks emphasized the impressiveness of such a feat.

"Five thousand hours gives him a tremendous amount of experience to fall back on," he said about Stoffel's knowledge of the mission and the aircraft.

"He knows every maneuver cold and can explain it in such a way that even the most challenged students find difficult to not understand," Marks said. "He can tailor how he presents information to any student, and this is directly related to his immense experience in Air Education and Training Command and the T-1A community."

Regardless of the aircraft or time spent in the air, Stoffel maintains the most important part of aviation, and what got him to the 5,000-hour mark is adherence to the fundamentals of aviation: "aviate, navigate, communicate."

Described as a "by-the-book" pilot who epitomizes flight discipline by Marks, Stoffel firmly believes it is this fundamental maxim of prioritization that keeps pilots flying safely.

"Most of the errors I've seen boil down to, 'did they fly the airplane?' Step No. 1."

Stoffel reaching the 5,000-hour also highlights the importance of Total Force Integration. Though he may fly with the 99th FTS, Stoffel is actually a part of the 39th Flying Training Squadron - a reserve squadron at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph.

Reservists are essential to the mission on a daily basis and Stoffel's achievement is evidence of that, Marks said. "It is a testament to the fact that 'total force' does work."

Through Total Force Integration and a universal commitment to success, the 99th is able to accomplish its mission with no sacrifice of quality.

"They are infused into daily operations," Marks said of his Reservist wingmen. "We couldn't do our job without them. Our Reservists are a backbone of our unit. You can't manufacture guys like Rick (Stoffel), he provides my schoolhouse instant credibility."